Thursday, April 25, 2013

In the end

My mom called me this morning to share a news. I generally don't receive calls at work but my mom has only important and emergency needs to call me. And everything is important for her. If I don't pick; the calls will be non stop; so I better pick.

Anyway, the news she shared was a person known to us passed away. I acknowledged and the call ended. Now this gentleman in question had lots to do with us, our family in an unconventional way. It goes back to the period when I was not older than 3 years. This man was an illiterate from a rural part of Tamilnadu, who migrated to Bangalore for a living. In few years, he was smart to understand the wealth the copper, iron, steel and such materials that comes out as industrial waste could bring. Bangalore's industrial zone was largest in South Asia then; there were 1000s of industries from small scale mom-pop shops to big ones that had presence in different cities and countries.

Those days, the industry did not know the value of scrap waste could generate; they were thrown away or given away at thrown away prices with the only intention of clearing off the waste. This waste is what is left off a finished product. So this guy who was transacting in small scale set up a shop in the heart of industrial area and with an initial capital of 60,000/- started funding small traders. This is how it worked. Petty traders didn't have capital; you give them the money; they buy the waste of streel, aluminum, ferrous and copper from the industries. Offload them at this man's godown, get a marginal profit. This guy stores them all and sends it back to foundry for a more profitable rate for recycling.

This guy over a period of time grew his business and wealth. Much as his smartness and shrewdness could be appreciated; he was at the end of the day; an illiterate with a petty mindset. We stayed beside his godown. He had some interesting expectations from us. He wanted my mom to stand up in respect at his arrival. He expected us to keep an eye on his shop and the security who was guarding it. He didn't trust anybody. He wore a Safari suit everyday; each day began with a ritual of Puja; his forehead adorned with a melee of sandalwood paste and vermillion. A TVS 50 gave way to an Ambassador. As his wealth grew; so were his pomp. His kids got themselves brand new motor cycles; malnourished due to poverty as kids; those early 20 something boys could never be called handsome. His daughters were no different.

Every year, Dusherra was celebrated with extravagance. Cold drinks(Torino), sweets, savories and fruits were distributed free to whoever walked along that road. Regular traders were given a sum of money called bonus. He went on to grow more - trucks, lands and other acquisitions.  He has contributed to fights between my parents, in ways possible like provoking and finding faults. Though he was a respectable man for his position; he always had that small mind.

Today, when I heard the news, one incident came to my mind. I was too young to know the relevance of it but the incident stuck with me. He was a person who wouldn't trust anybody. Though he had a guard for his shop, he wanted a spy to counter guard and keep a check on the guard. As usual one day, as he was leaving for the day; he saw that my mom was sitting outside after her day's chores. I was playing beside. He called her and asked her to take care of his establishment. He also asked her about the security guard - if he did his job fine and if he was trustable. My mom promptly questioned "Do you trust your wife at the least". Was it in her mind to ask him such a question or was she waiting for such a chance, I do not know.

After that day, I noticed that he and my mom did not speak to each other anymore.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


This happened during high school days. I was a new joined to the school; a convent school run by the sisters of St. Josephs of Cluny. Why am I specifying the school name is that to give a gist of what to expect in this post. Anything convent is related to English; thats what the post is about. 

During the first few weeks at school, I was beginning to learn cursive writing that was mandatory there.  
Most things seemed new to me; right from the sophistication, confidence and √©lan the girls had. It was nothing like what I saw in my previous school where we were mellow and shy. 

The girls of my class would make fun of a certain girl whenever she spoke. She had a perfect English; but with an accent. I did not understand why the girls made fun of her. One day, she was reading out some text in the absence of the teacher; when some girls in unison started mimicking her. At first, she ignored, then she started crying and finally yelled at the class "You Idiots!". That was when I understood; it was her accent they were making fun of! 

Few days later, I learnt that her accent was 'normal'. Normal here means the way a south Indian would pronounce and speak English. That was until the summer holidays. Everything seemed to have turned upside down once the school reopened after vacation. She came back with an accent! I inquired if she visited any foreign land for such a transformation in those 60 days. Girls who stayed near her house told nothing of that sort happened. And none of us knew what led to the transformation. 

Jasmine continued to have this accent until our end of school. I do not know if any symptom inflicted her; the way they show in movies! 

Well, what reminded me of Jasmine and her accent was when today; at work. Couple of my team members and me were expressing the challenges of holding meetings over phone with Americans. The East Cosat slang was different from West Coast slang. Its tricky to be talking to a stranger over phone, and to be talking to folks with a strange accent of yours is still tough; and the other end has a stranger slang is more a challenge. A colleague then mentioned that during one of such calls; she put her phone on speaker when I was talking. Her husband thought that I was a foreigner (I think she meant a Westerner) after hearing me speak, because of my accent. 

Now I don't know when I transformed the way Jasmine transformed :-)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

First view of Cambodia in Phnom Penh

The Thailand sojourn is not over yet. After Chiang Mai, the plan was to visit Cambodia and get back to Thailand to fall in the Andaman sea at Phuket. Hmm, this is what happens if spouses have different interests. Velu doesnt understand the interest I have in visiting "one stone after another to another". The sea is such a nice place; you lie on the sand and sip beer all day and thats so much fun. So when we have to travel together; we make sure we take into account my interest and also his. So the vacation always ends with beer on the sea shore.

The first impression of Cambodia was looking at people after we got through immigration. Immigration was itself a breezy process; unlike at Thailand. Visa on Arrival in Thailand is a pain; crowded, long waiting time and acceptance of only Thai Baht. Cambodia is different; they depend on tourism heavily and thus US dollars are used extensively; in fact its only US $ de facto. They collect your passports and seamlessly all things get done; in less than 10 minutes you are out with your passport and visa.

So the first impression, I thought most Cambodians looked like Indians. You only realize they are of different nationality once they start speaking to you; thats natural since we share ancestry. As you walk out of the airport; the feeling is that here are your long lost brothers. You hit the road and the first thing that hits you is a feeling of being in India during the 80s. Yeah, it takes you back by 30 years.

The country is picking bits and pieces of itself after the civil war during the 70s along with the American-Vietnam war when the Cambodian lands were used for war. Its a sad but intriguing story. More about it later. So you see dirty children begging on the streets; most of them super smart and shrewd. You will learn about their plan of actions sooner than you think.

Most tourists generally skip Phnom Penh. There is hardly anything to see, only a couple of prison and killing fields which is going to leave you sad, pained and chilling. Cambodia's tourism lies in the heart of Siem Reap - the Angkor Wat and other cluster of temples. So understandingly, the airport at Siem Reap is bigger and well equipped to handle international flights than at Phnom Penh though the latter is the capital.

I knew which area we will have to stay at; but didn't have a reservation in any hotels. Typical me! The taxi ride cost 9$; as we got out of the taxi; we had to face desperate tuk-tuk drivers wanting to ferry us in their tuk-tuks for 1$. The currency of Cambodia is Riel; but very low in value and people don't prefer transactions in riel. It has not gained public acceptance even after 30 years when it was first introduced.

Cambodia gets strong international support in economic assistance. The infrastructure development is mostly aided by foreign countries as a token of friendship. In fact, the temples at Siem Reap are renovated by various countries' archeological departments like China, France, India.

The destination was Riverside. Riverside is a boulevard where the rivers Tonle Sap and Mekong confluence to form Bassac on one side and the other side is laden with hotels, restaurants, bistros, cafes and bars. Its also called Sisowath Quay and very famous since it also has the Royal Palace of HRH the King of Cambodia and the Emerald Temple.

Riverside is like Point Zero and is busy throughout. Its the downtown with fairly easy access to transport and food. Also, options to stay range from 5 star to backpacker's den. With range of options to stay and eat, its obvious the place exists for tourists and are thus priced for tourists. So its better to get a bit away from the Riverside view hotels to find decent holets with great service but at a lesser price

We found one 500 m away from the Riverside proper and a 100 m interior from the main road and paid just 10$. While initially the desperation of the tuk tuk drivers may give you a wrong impression that they are trying to fleece you; its not. These folks are essentially trying to earn some money and they are good. For the hard work they do, 1-2$ is all they earn sometimes per day. In fact, a tuk tuk guy was continuously pursuing us on the first day. It was raining and we decided on a quick refreshment at a restaurant. He was waiting for us to finish; when we did; we chose another tuk tuk. It was not intentional; it was just that we chose randomly. This guy felt so bad that he actually came up to us and expressed his unhappiness. He was waiting in the rain for nearly an hour just to earn 1$ but he had lost it. I felt very very bad for what we did or didn't do. But the way he was pursuing did give us jitters.

On the second day, we were walking on the Sisowath Quay to relax, when a guy on a motorcycle came close to us. It flustered us and then he went away realizing we didn't need a drop. Only later did I realize that locals hitchike on strangers vehicles and pay them 1000 or 2000 riels. Sometimes you can see 3-4 people on a motorcycle hitchhiking!

The King had passed away. The state was mourning. This is the Royal Palace on Riverside with the portrait of the King

Cambodia was a French colony for a while and one can see lot of French colonial buildings. Here is one. Interestingly, it seems if the French had not colonized Cambodia, the country wouldn't be in existence today.  Part of it would have gone to Thailand and remaining to Vietnam.

Sisowath Quay is the best place to stay; since most of the destinations are walking distance - the royal palace, the national museum, night market... This is the entrance to National Museum, showcasing pre Angkor and post Angkorian era; artifacts and other items.

View of Riverside

The Independence monument; about 1 km from Riverside. It was built in 1958 after independence from France in 1953. Its dome is styled like Lotus after the Khmer temples of Angkor.

Away from the central district. The real Cambodia. I did not click pictures of Financial district since its obvious its going to a be a wide boulevard, neat and clean. This is the essence of Cambodia.

Public transportation are only tuk tusk and taxis. The roads once you get out of the central business district is bad and broken and at most places; doesn't exist.

Woman selling street food with her shoulder baskets

Housing complexes

Inside Wat Phnom. The legend of Phnom Penh is that a Lady by name Penh built a temple long ago on a hill. Phnom means Hill and Phnom Penh means The Hill of the Lady Penh. The temple has a stupa, murals depicting stories from Reamker - the Khmer version of Ramayan can be seen on either sides. It sits 27 meters above ground level and is the tallest religious structure in the city

Tuk tuk for the day

The Silver Pagoda temple located within the Royal Palace complex. The interior of the temple is inlaid with silver tiles and is now covered with carpets; but one can still walk on it and feel the tiles if you can push the carpet a bit. The temple also houses national treasures such as several gold and silver statues of Buddha. They are exhibited in the temple and one can see them. Most of the other complexes within the palace was shut as a mark of respect for the King and it was the official mourning period. It was only the Silver Pagoda and a couple of other external structures that were open and yet the ticket prices remained at 6.5$ per person. I thought it was not worth. Also, we entered when the complex was to be closed for the day; around 5:00 and so had to rush. Again I thought 5:00 was too early to close. Photography is not permitted inside the pagoda. I would have gladly missed visiting it.

A couple of patriots going to offer lotus flowers to the King; outside the palace compound. The Cambodians revere their king a lot and they have immense respect for the King and the Prince

Buddish monks at the Complex. Interestingly the coronation I have read of the Prince happens with the presence of Hindu Brahmin priests; they give a go ahead kind of stuff. Its interesting to see how a Hindu country embraced Buddhism in 14th century at the behest of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks but still has Hindu practice imbibed in their daily life.

Girls taking a break amidst their sales.

Entrance to the Royal Palace

Lotus, black badges were sold heavily; and the sellers pursued everyone to buy them as a mark of respect for the King. Seen here is the portrait of the King and his casket on the giant LCD. Crowds of people thronged at the entrance; some of them chanting prayers, some of them with their family. The place was a mess, dirty and chaotic. Some of them saw business opportunities; selling food and other things. Again, it was best to move about in caution; you don't know who could snatch your bag or pick your pockets.

Probably a rag picker; he had lot of empty cans and bottles with him. He readily stood for a photo when I requested him. I am reminded of an incident that happened the previous day. We found an Indian restaurant; and were sipping chai sitting outside enjoying the view of the rivers when a cute boy of not more than 5 years came by. He could communicate in impeccable English; he looked dirty and shabby. He said he was 4 years old. He was hovering around our table and trying to grab attention. I picked up my camera to take his picture and he ducked under a chair. He didn't want to be photographed I thought. But once I placed my camera; he said "Lady, give me 1$ and you can take my picture". I was stunned at first. But later realized this is how the kids are trained; kids are sent to sell stuffs so that tourists take mercy on them and buy really compared to being sold by elders. This boy was so shrewd that he knew he had to be paid for the service. 1$ was not too big money not to part with but somehow I did not want to encourage this behavior. The kid was around for 5 more minutes trying all things to grab my attention and then when he realized I didnt mind not having his picture; he left. Bunch of kids like these exist everywhere demanding money and they know that "Its just 1$" and not a big pinch in your pocket!

The Tonle Sap and the Mekong from the other side meeting to form Bassau

Manicured lawns, neat boulevard; in the evening its a nice place to take a walk and buy something to eat from numerous hawkers

The tuk tuk here are pulled by 2 wheelers; like the way food carts were pulled in Thailand. There are no restrictions on how these 2 wheelers could be used. But the tuk-tuk drivers have a hard way to be driving a 2 wheeler long distances; back breaking work for sure

At night

The Palace at night

Monday, April 1, 2013

Books, Plays and Events

In order to keep yourself sane and normal, at times you tend to rediscover your interests in things you like. Off late, I can say my weekends have been kind of eventful; if not the entire weekend, at least few hours.

I have a backlog of books to read. Its not that I have not been reading; its that the books keep adding in my cupboard. They refill faster than I have been able to read. I have finished John Grisham's The Pelican Brief. I think its one of his very few books where the story doesn't revolve around attorneys or court rooms. I read Anne Frank's diary. Quite distrubing to read how simple things in life we seem to have taken for granted was a remote luxury to a section of society; all because of some insane ideologies. I also read a collection of short stories from rural Tamil folklore. Its called "Where are you going, you monkeys?" There are many short folklores of Gods/Goddess, spouses, friends, relatives, devils and you realize that you would have definitely heard at least few of them. Its such a welcoming thought to realize how rich our culture has been and how story telling was imbibed as part of everyday life. Its definitely a must read, for generations after us; I wonder if they grow up listening to these folk tales. I have heard a bit from my mom; but I would have heard many more had I grown up with my grand parents. For people like me, this book is a great reveler.

I read Wanderlust by Danielle Steele. Its a story of a 20 something girl from San Francisco wanting to travel the world and experience exotic places like her father and how she is torn between her family and her dream to travel. The journey takes her to Europe, Turkey, Middle East, North of India, Manchuria, Japan and North Africa. Umm, she does that with 5000$ when USA is in great depression. I could picture myself doing something like that...when is the question. I read Lord of Ice - a romantic tale between a rich knight and an orphan girl set in the late 1700s in England.

What else did I read? - Yeah, Mafia Queens of Mumbai. For most of us, who have only known about underworld dons of Mumbai, this is a shocker. If you like crime stories, reading the real ones can be addictive. I read Bridget Jones Edge of Reason - Bridget's relationship with Mark Darcy and her continued dilemma; followed by Memoirs of Geisha. Memoirs interested me a lot; Japan as as whole and the life of Geishas. I visualized Ichiriki teahouse the way it was described in the book. Once I finished reading, I actually googled for the teahouse and found my visualization quite close :-) And yeah, if God favors, maybe visit the tea house once in my lifetime. Aaah wishes!!

I read a couple of pages of The Secret of Nagas and put it aside to read later. I also read 3 chapters of The God of Small Things. I felt it required lot of concentration to be able to follow the context switches that happen so frequently in the book. To imagine Baby Kochamma in her teens and immediately in her 70s and to jump context from Rahel and Estha as kids to grown ups was too much. So I have suspended it for a while. Don't know if I will go back to reading it.

I have many on the list - The Secret of Nagas, The Oath of Vayuputras, The Cannibal, Angel of the Dark, Brida, The Zahir, Aleph, The White Tiger, Eleven Minutes and few more.......... So my hands are full.

I went to an event couple of weeks ago. Its more of a flea market concept that happens once every quarter and its called Sunday Soul Santhe. (Santhe means market in Kannada). People exhibit their handicrafts, knick knacks and other items for sale. Clothes, home-made soaps, paintings, photography, caricatures, chocolates, handmade ladies accessories, jute bags, terra-cotta wares and jewelery, quilled artifacts, artifacts made from recycled materials to name a few. I and Rahul (of ETs blog) wanted to explore if we can showcase our creations from our hobbies and if we could make money out of it, thats bonus. So we went to this event and yeah, there was just one photography stall. I am thinking if its an oppurtunity for me. We will have to pay towards setting up a stall and stall space and all that. But it did give us an idea about the stall, the concept.

For the first time, nah second time I think; I watched a play at Alliance Francaise. It was a humorous play in English titled "What's with Indian men?" Now with the title, you can gather what it would be about. A girl trying to find a suitable boy to get married meets men of different kinds and the conversation that follows. It was a very nice experience. For one; away from those crowd infested malls with their plasticky overdo, food, drinks and customer service. The play provided what was most needed - entertainment. Nothing else. The live singing after each scene was great, the lyrics, the song was wonderful. I think I would go to watch more plays here after than watch a movie. It also gives you a chance to talk to the artistes, try participating in one of the plays. Alliance Francaise also showcases French movies, plays, music festival. Its nominally charged or free sometimes.

I tried to do a photo walk at the famous KR Market yesterday evening. It was late in the evening and also I was not too confident of getting photos. It requires lot of guts to take photos nonchalantly in a crowded area and yet not compromise on the shots you want to take. I did get curious questions why I was taking snaps, if I were from TV. I think I got a couple of good ones before the power went off. It was also not the best place with people jostling around and pick pocketers all around. But I always want to click at a market - the mood, the chaos, the activities is a photographer's dream to capture the essence. Lets see.

I have highlighted the names of books and events so that if you are interested; you can easily pick the names from here